The Heretic's Tomb and the Black Death - Medieval Medicine Part Three
As far as medicines were concerned, many medieval concoctions were little more than witch’s brews. One of the best known medicinal drugs of the Middle Ages was ‘treacle’ or theriac, a blend of sixty four different drugs in honey. Sold as a cure all, it was claimed to cure fevers, prevent internal swellings, clear skin blemishes, help heart trouble, dropsy, epilepsy, palsy, help you sleep, aid digestion, strengthen limbs, heal wounds and of course, cure plague. Doctors at the time did make use of herbal remedies too. However, here again astrology had a distinct influence. The genuine medical properties of some plants were also related to how, and by who, they were collected. Betony had to be picked by a small child in August before sunrise, and marigold when the moon had entered the house of Virgo. A herbalist also had to recite the proper designated prayers when preparing the medicine. And yet, medieval doctors were also skilled at a variety of medical procedures. They could set broken bones, extract teeth, take out bladder stones, remove cataracts, and restored a scarred face by skin grafts from the arm. They knew that apoplexy and epilepsy were related to the brain. Urine samples, feces and pulse rates were used to analyze ailments, and doctors were aware of which substances were diuretics and laxatives. It was also firmly believed that prevention was better than cure, and great emphasis was placed on a healthy lifestyle, in which diet, exercise, mental attitude and reduced stress all played a part.
You can learn more about The Heretic's Tomb and the historical background to the novel on my website.